CW Hawes - Author

Do Men Read Fiction?

Do men read fiction? This is a question traditional publishers have asked and decided in the negative. No. Men do not read fiction. The conclusion is based on numerous surveys that have been conducted concerning adult reading.

Now I find this to be a rather disturbing conclusion, because I’m a man and I read fiction. As of today, I’ve read 19 novels and 11 short stories this year. In fact, I just finished a novel yesterday. I also write novels. So how on earth did traditional publishers arrive at such a bizarre conclusion? Am I an odd ball? Or are traditional publishers mistaken?

Traditional publishing tends to be dominated by women and that may influence what ends up getting published. (cf, Where The Boys Are Not.) After all women do tend to read differently than men. And if women are functioning as agents and editors then their interests can’t but help have some influence as to what gets represented and what eventually gets published.

Porter Anderson, writing on Jane Friedman’s blog, disputes the notion that men don’t read fiction. And indie author Mark Dawson has statistical evidence that his John Milton thrillers are read about equally by men and women.

Nevertheless, there is a deluge of novels with strong female leads coming out of traditional publishing and indie publishing. Both men and women authors are cranking out novels where the protagonist is a strong woman. Myself included. I can’t help but think that this deluge is due to the notion that men don’t read fiction.

As a reader, a male reader, I don’t mind reading books where there is a strong female lead. One of my favorite characters is Robert E Howard’s Dark Agnes. Better known as Sword Woman. But quite honestly, I’m getting tired of reading books that only feature a strong female lead. After all, I am a guy and I’d like a little guy fantasy every now and then.

So I ask myself, why? Why all the strong female leads even from the pens of male authors? It’s not that I don’t like women, because I do. So what is the reason?

I think the reason, in part, is because there is a very strong trend, which has been going on for years, to have the main character — whether male or female — to be very touchy-feely. Perhaps this trend is due to a female dominated publishing industry. Because women tend to like their protagonists to be touchy-feely.

Lee Child made note of this in his introduction to a new addition of his first Jack reacher novel. What had started out to be a good thing, pretty soon became a bad thing because so many people were copying it and not doing it so well. In other words it was no longer innovative. The sensitive and troubled main character had become hack. A stock character. So Child made Jack Reacher not quite the opposite. Reacher is something of a man’s man and yet there is enough sensitivity to him that a woman reader could find him attractive.

I think the other reason, in part, is the perception that men don’t read fiction. If men don’t read fiction then why have a male lead in the first place? However this perception may not be true. The popularity of Jack Reacher and Mark Dawson’s John Milton would seem to indicate that both men and women like a male protagonist and one who is something of a man’s man.

In doing a bit of online research concerning the question, I ran across a wonderful article which indicates men do read fiction. However, they’re reading habits tend to be less flexible than those of women. The article is by Kate Summers and is on the Reference and User Services Association website.

In addition to being less flexible readers than women, men tend to be far less social concerning their reading habits. In other words, men tend not to talk about what they read. Something Anderson alludes to in his post which I referenced above. Consequently, surveys indicating men are less likely to buy and read fiction may be skewed in favor of women simply because men don’t answer them! Women are much more likely than men to be in bookclubs, tweet what they’re reading, or share book recommendations on Facebook, Goodreads, and Google Plus. All of which gives the impression men don’t read fiction.

Additionally, young men may not be as attracted to a touchy-feely main character as are young women. And if young men get the impression that novels are only for “girls and sissies”, then we are going to lose male readers of fiction. Which argues for the need to have — especially in YA books — strong male protagonists, written by male authors. Because young men tend to read male authors over female authors. Think about comic books here. Comic book heroes by and large are not touchy-feely and boys love comic books.

As a writer, this is an important question to me — because it impacts both what I write and how I market what I write. However, I’m glad to say I’m no longer overly concerned. I think it’s clear men do read fiction. Even adolescent boys will read fiction if there’s a strong male protagonist and lots of adventure. What is also clear is that men and boys just don’t advertise what they read. For whatever reason. They are also more set as to what they will read, than are women and girls. As a writer, I need to keep this in mind.

Do men read fiction? Yes, they do. Perhaps writers need to include strong male leads in more of their novels. After all, men spend money too. Why not have them throw a little bit in the fiction writer’s path?

As always, comments are welcome! Until next time, happy reading!

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TV Review: Murdoch Mysteries



Steampunk is alive well. Not only as a sub-genre of speculative fiction, but also as a lifestyle movement and a musical genre.

A few weeks ago, while looking for something to watch on Netflix streaming, I stumbled upon the retro-detective series Murdoch Mysteries. I fell in love immediately. I mean who wouldn’t love a show that features Nikola Tesla in the first episode? I’ve been binge watching ever since.

Some people might not call Murdoch Mysteries steampunk. And in a very real sense it isn’t. At least it isn’t traditional steampunk. However there are many steampunk elements that the writers incorporate in the episodes, so I call it steampunk light.

Detective William Murdoch, of Toronto Constabulary’s Fourth Station House, is an amateur inventor and a scientific sleuth worthy of Sherlock Holmes’s shoes, Inverness cape, and deerstalker hat. But Murdoch wears none of those. Just a conservative 1890s suit and Homburg, the classic hat worn by Winston Churchill, among others.

The show begins in the mid-1890s and in season six enters the new century. Numerous inventions are featured that were either invented or discussed at that time and some of them Murdoch himself invents to help him solve crimes. Also a feature of the show are the famous personalities who appear as part of the storyline; people such as Tesla, Henry Ford, Winston Churchill, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Jack London, and HG Wells.

The episodes are filled with humor and historical puns, such as when Constable Crabtree claps his hands to activate a sound activated switch (the Clapper of modern day fame), which makes the series almost a comedy were it not for the seriousness of Murdoch and the murders he’s trying to solve.

I believe the success of this series lies in the interaction of the main trio of characters: Detective Murdoch, Constable Crabtree, and Inspector Brackenreid. Murdoch is unrelentingly serious and conservative, in spite of his love of science, technology, and invention. When he invents “Silly Putty” to capture newsprint he can’t read on the inside of a wallet, Brackenreid wants to take some home for his boys because they would love the silliness of it. Murdoch rebukes him that the putty is not a toy.

Crabtree aspires to be like Murdoch, but has an imagination that enables him to see practical applications of Murdoch’s and other inventors’s inventions that they themselves don’t see or dismiss. When a microwave machine shows up in Murdoch’s office, having been used as a weapon, Crabtree envisions it could be used to bake potatoes. When told the machine would have to be the size of a room, Crabtree goes on to imagine homes being built in the future with potato baking rooms. Eventually in the course of the series, Crabtree puts his imagination to use and writes a novel.

Brackenreid is an old school cop who in the beginning has little toleration for Murdoch’s odd methods. He’s a blustering blowhard, who is really a marshmallow on the inside.

Of course no series would be complete without a love interest and that we have between Murdoch and the very progressive coroner, Doctor Julia Ogden.

The series also explores many social issues and can therefore be seen as a commentary on our own age, which in many ways isn’t much different from Murdoch’s.

As I noted above, many might not see Murdoch Mysteries as steampunk. But whatever genre you decide to call the series, the series is riotously good fun. Very highly recommended.

As always, comments are welcome and until next time — happy reading!

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Movie Review: Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow



This past weekend I watched a dieselpunk cult classic: Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. I loved it! The 1930s and 40s feel of the cinematography, the cheesy ‘tween war movie dialogue, the Art Deco and Streamline Moderne designs, the fabulous inventions, hero versus evil genius, the terrifying mechanical monsters, and let’s not forget that fabulous spaceship! Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow has it all.

The movie is part noir mystery and part comic book superhero adventure. The film is a blend of the 30s and 40s acting style combined with exquisite modern special effects.

The acting and plot are typical of the old B grade movie. The stuff I grew up with in the 50s and early 60s. And perhaps that’s why I like the movie. It’s all action and adventure. No complicated plot. Simply an evil genius bent on destroying the world and our superhero who has to stop him. There are no complex characters. No one is pouring angst all over the screen. Just action with a romance subplot to keep the personal level interesting. In fact the movie isn’t all that much different from Indiana Jones or Lara Croft. It is pure entertainment. Nothing thought provoking here. Just stuff to get your adrenaline pumping.

If you have no idea what a B grade movie is, then you may think Sky Captain is ridiculous. Clearly some of the reviews I read on Rotten Tomatoes indicated to me the reviewer had no idea what the director was trying to achieve. The movie is a tribute to the movie fare that entertained millions every Saturday afternoon at the theater.

The B grade movie was not much different than the dime novel or the pulp magazine. It was cheap entertainment and movie studios cranked them out by the score.

One very popular theme of the old B movie was that of the knight-errant story from the Middle Ages. It is the story of a knight who embarks on a mission of great importance. The traditional Western is classic knight-errant stuff. A gang of bad guys takes over a town. The lone sheriff comes to the town and cleans it up. Usually by killing the bad guys. The classic movie The Magnificent Seven is the knight-errant trope. And so is Sky Captain. Only he can save the world from impending destruction.

In my opinion, Kerry Conran did an admirable job in recreating the old B movie. All the tropes are there to relive your youth — provided, of course, you’re old enough.

Otherwise, sit back and simply enjoy a Time Machine that takes you back to another world, an older and maybe better world, when a movie ticket cost 50¢ and a bag of popcorn was a quarter.

Two features of the movie I especially loved were the fabulous art deco and streamline moderne designs of the space ship’s exterior and interior and the mechanical monsters. The space ship takes you back to Buck Rogers and the monsters are straight out of the comic books I used to read. Truly fabulous stuff there.

Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow is highly recommended. Definitely five stars.

As always comments are welcome and, until next time, happy reading!

Hindenburg III docking at the Empire State Building

Hindenburg III docking at the Empire State Building

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Book Review: Daddy’s Girl by Ben Willoughby



Horror tales come in all shapes and sizes. They can be visions of great cosmic terror or they can be the evil wishes of a child. The story can be one of psychological torment, or one of unfathomable gruesomeness. There are some who don’t see horror as a separate genre, but as a particular effect given to a story of dark fantasy, or science fiction, or slice of life.

And whether or not we like to read stories that frighten us, or listen to them told around a campfire, many of us do. Enough so that horror has gotten its own BISAC genre code and is exceedingly profitable to publisher and writer alike.

My first foray into the realm of the horror story was by means of the tales of Edgar Allan Poe. Not much later came the stories of Saki. And then those two gothic adventures of Sherlock Holmes: The Hound of the Baskervilles and “The Adventure of the Engineer’s Thumb”. From there I read Dracula and Carmilla and discovered the work of HP Lovecraft and Robert E Howard’s weird fiction.

I’ve even ventured into the realm of the weird and terrible with a few tales of my own. However, there are a few writers today who write doggone good horror stories and unfortunately remain for the most part unseen. One of those writers is Ben Willoughby and I hope this review, and upcoming reviews of his work, will help to bring him a broader audience.

Mr Willoughby has five books out now in the horror genre. I’ve purchased them all and read two. (He’s writing them faster than I can read them!) Today I want to talk a bit about his novella Daddy’s Girl, which is a ghost story that is very well done.

The ghost story is perhaps the most venerable form of the supernatural horror tale. Certainly it is one of the oldest, if not the oldest within this category. The ghost story plays into our beliefs about life after death. Even today, where the Western world has moved beyond Christianity and pretty much any traditional religion, the ghost story still works. Still plays upon our imagination. I think this is because it’s primal. It taps into the core of our hopes and fears surrounding the greatest of all mysteries — death. And no matter how materialistic we’ve become, few of us want to die. Even believing in an afterlife, few of us want to end our existence here. It is what we know. We fear the unknown.

Mr Willoughby’s tale, Daddy’s Girl, plays on our emotions from two directions. The first is the child’s need for and love of his or her parents. We children may dislike our parents telling us what to do, but when they aren’t there we crave for someone to step in and take over that role. Many of us don’t ever grow out of that need for someone to watch over us. Politicians and demagogues use this to gain control. They feel our pain and tell us lies so we feel good. The bond of child to parent is ever with us.

The other bond is that of parent to child. We as parents will do anything to spare our children at the very least the hardest knocks of life. We teach them and guide them and support them. Children a visible form of eternal life. Through them we in a sense live forever.

Mr Willoughby has combined these two powerful bonds into a tale of parent-child love. The parent’s watchful eye, ever present, protecting his little girl.

I don’t want to spoil the story and so I will leave the storyline alone. Do, though, get yourself a copy of Daddy’s Girl. The book will tug your heartstrings and give you something to think about. As well as scare you into the realization your determination may be stronger than you even realize.

What I like about Ben Willoughby’s writing is that he has a simple and straightforward way to tell a story. It unfolds before us on the page and does so without a mass of purple prose. There is an economy of words in his style and to my mind that allows me the reader to participate in the story. He isn’t telling me everything. Just what I need to know. Which means he is able to paint the atmosphere and mood and generate empathy for the characters without excess verbiage. And that is the hallmark of a good writer.

I very much recommend Daddy’s Girl. I also recommend Raw Head, which I hope to review in a future post. And I look forward to reading his other offerings in the realm of terror.

Ben Willoughby is a fine example of the good things the indie revolution has to offer. If only we take a chance and are willing to read widely.

Comments are always welcome! Until next time, happy reading!

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Crime Fiction

My wife and I have been watching the ABC TV show Quantico on Netflix. I would have stopped watching after about the eighth episode, but my wife wanted to continue and so we did. IMO, the show continued its downward spiral into angst, bad acting, and impossibly stupid storylines right through to the season finale. How ABC could renew such a travesty on the concept of entertainment and cancel Agent Carter is beyond me. Well, actually it isn’t. A hot babe, a hunky guy, and sex (lots of sex) — and you get commercial sponsors. No wonder ABC’s line up sucks.

At the same time, I’ve been watching the Canadian TV series Murdoch Mysteries and CBS’s Elementary. Those are superb productions with good acting, well-drawn characters, and engaging storylines. Of which, Quantico has none. The main character in Quantico is a narcissistic slut (not just my opinion, even the characters in the story think so), the supporting characters are pathetic, and the storyline… Well, when taken all together, if the FBI is really like this — then God help America.

In watching the three shows, I got thinking about crime fiction and drama in general and which types do I prefer. Broadly speaking, there are three categories of crime stories: mystery, suspense, and thriller. Let’s take a look at each and see what defines them.


Crime fiction mysteries more or less got their start with Edgar Allan Poe’s C. Auguste Dupin and were perfected by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in Sherlock Holmes. Every detective since Holmes’s debut owe’s something to the Great Detective. Doyle permanently shaped the mystery. There have been many variations on the theme, but there have been no new themes.

What are the characteristics of the mystery story? At base it’s a puzzle, a riddle, to be solved. The hero or heroine must find the solution and discover who committed the crime.

The mystery is something of a cerebral form. It appeals to our wish for order and our desire to find solutions to problems. Action is often minimal. There is the sleuth, professional or amateur, interacting with the other characters in order to gain pieces of information which will hopefully lead to the solution of the problem.

Generally speaking, the sleuth is in little physical danger. Although he or she may encounter some risk as he or she gets closer to the solution and the bad guy is about to be revealed.

Examples of this category abound. Perhaps my favorite mysteries are those which feature Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe. On TV there are many great series. Favorites of mine are Inspector Morse, Inspector Lewis, Inspector George Gently, Grantchester, Elementary, Murdoch Mysteries, and Midsomer Murders.

My own Justinia Wright, PI fits neatly into this category.


The suspense novel or drama differs from the mystery in that the hero is in some kind of personal danger, often right from the beginning of the story — although he or she may not be aware of the danger, at least at the start of the story.

However, the reader (or viewer) is very much aware and that starts the suspense dynamic.

The focus in the suspense story is not on the crime, but rather on the danger the hero has inadvertently gotten himself into.

The acknowledged master of the suspense story was Cornell Woolrich. Novels such as The Bride Wore Black, Night has a Thousand Eyes, and Fright are classics of the genre.

Alfred Hitchcock was the cinematic master of the suspense story, with such classics as Rear Window (based on a Woolrich short story), North by Northwest, and Vertigo.

A good suspense story often has many elements of the “whodunit”, although very often the reader or viewer knows who the villain is. The hero very often doesn’t however and that creates the suspense.


The thriller is the relative newcomer on the block. Although, one could argue the thriller concept got its start in such novels as the Fu Manchu series by Sax Rohmer, where the evil genius, Fu Manchu threatens the world with his evil schemes.

In a very real sense the thriller is a suspense story that is simply set on a very grand scale. The stakes are much higher, often on a huge scale. Something is going to affect hundreds, if not thousands or millions, of people — and the hero, of course, must stop the bad guy before the disaster happens. He may or may not know who the culprit is he must stop, but stop him he must. If the villain is unknown to both hero and reader/viewer, then we have elements of the mystery in our thriller.

And right from the start it’s very obvious the hero, along with those hundreds, thousands, or millions, is in danger. Mortal danger, which only gets worse as the story progresses.

The above mentioned blight on the thriller genre, Quantico, exemplifies all of the thriller tropes. The heroine, Alex Parrish, is in danger right from the start. The stakes are high, as well: buildings are blowing up and then we get the ultimate disaster threat. The villain is only revealed at the end, so we also have a healthy dash of mystery to our plot. The suspense story on steroids.

A much better example of the thriller is the movie Die Hard. Intense action. High stakes. One man against many, with scores of hostages at risk. A classic.

In the literary field, Tom Clancy was a master of the technical thriller and the stakes in his books are huge. There’s also Robin Cook’s medical thrillers.


Crime fiction is the second largest genre after romance. According to Author Earnings’ May 2016 report, mysteries and thrillers/suspense account for around 230,000 sales per day on Amazon, with authors earning in the neighborhood of $375,000 per day. Apparently crime (writing) does pay!

Thrillers/suspense (and probably more the thriller) is the hot genre now. Straight mysteries less so. Lee Child and Clive Cussler are big names. Indies such as Mark Dawson and A G Riddle are pulling in big bucks selling thrillers. Apparently crime readers lean towards lots of action and big risks these days.

However, I have to say I prefer the mystery and secondarily the traditional suspense story. There’s nothing wrong with the thriller, it’s just that most thriller storylines seem a bit too fantastic for my tastes. I also tend to prefer the more sedate pace of the mystery. If I want action and adventure, I prefer the traditional action/adventure yarn. Such as those written by H. Rider Haggard or Robert E Howard.

It is, though, admittedly, a matter of personal taste. However, I find myself wondering if in another 130 years Jack Reacher will be around. I’m pretty certain Sherlock Holmes will be.

Feel free to comment on your crime fiction preferences. And until next time, happy reading!

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Book Review: Evelyn & Company by Chad Muller

Evelyn & Company


One of my favorite comedy reads is Evelyn & Company by Chad Muller. The humor is wacky, zany, intellectual, and virtual slapstick all rolled into one. I reviewed this book over a year ago and thought I would resurrect the review because I’ve rethought how I want to do book reviews: namely, I’m dumping the  star system of rating. I think a better approach is to simply tell you why I like the book and if I think you will like it as well. So without further ado, once again Evelyn & Company!

Comedy, I think, can be exceedingly difficult to pull off well in writing. After all, the key elements of timing and pacing are not present as they are in live performance. And then there is the very real fact not everyone thinks the same thing is humorous. Yet there are authors who’ve made comedy writing their bread and butter. Mark Twain, Robert E Howard, Oscar Wilde, Douglas Adams, and John Logsdon easily come to mind.

Some time ago (December 2014 to be exact), I stumbled upon the zany book Evelyn & Company by Chad Muller (aka CM Muller). I bought a copy and laughed my way through it.

The novel is bizarre, zany, and delightful. A crazy romp through the many facets humor has to offer us. Puns, slapstick, innuendo, juxtaposition, satire, black comedy, it’s all there in Evelyn Portobello’s mad, quixotic quest for revenge when she doesn’t get the product she bought that was advertised on the TV.

Who hasn’t purchased something and had it as often as not, not be what was advertised? The item sounded so good and in the end was so disappointing. A scenario that has happened to all of us. That is the basis for Mr Muller’s comic tale. And so the plump Ms Portobello is stiffed on her order of “Magic Morel Shake Mix” and her phone calls and letters go unanswered. Oh, the earthy deliciousness of it all!

Humor operates on many different levels and has a very individual appeal. What Evelyn & Company offers us is a smorgasbord of humor. There is something here for everyone. Some examples we may not get (there were a few I didn’t), but keep reading — for our morsel is waiting.

The story is simple. The perfect slice of life. It begins in the middle of living and in a sense goes no where — a perfect “plotless” novel — but along the way we encounter injustice, love, devotion, romance, protests, strikes, anger, happiness, crazies, fun, and laughter. Yes, lots of laughter. After all, it’s a slice of life.

Evelyn is wealthy but lives in a trailer, expends tens of thousands of dollars to get back the $19.95 she was cheated out of, and then decides to take matters into her own hands. Situational irony at its finest!

In the tradition of black comedy and social satire, Muller has given us a 21st century Candide — by the name of Evelyn & Company.

I heartily recommend this book! Preview it below!

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Book Review: Beyond The Rails by Jack Tyler

beyond the rails


One of the defining features of the punk genres is a protagonist on the edge of society, which allows the author plenty of room to critique said society. This aspect is particularly true in cyberpunk, the original punk genre, and perhaps less so in others.

Jack Tyler, in his short story collection, Beyond The Rails, has given us not one, but five societal misfits and placed them in the colonial frontier of an alternative history 1880s Kenya. The social critique aspect of the punk genre comes in how the white and black Kenyans get along, drawing a contrast with actual history and our own contemporary society. The critique, though, is very understated. Mr Tyler just sort of slips it in. Only the adventure is heavy handed here and that’s a good thing.

Beyond The Rails has all the trappings of steampunk, airships, high adventure, fantastical inventions, and, of course, steam power. Mr Tyler has managed to capture the essence of Firefly and at the same time given us the field of an H Rider Haggard African adventure. And who doesn’t love She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed and Allen Quatermain?

There are six stories in the collection. The first three are independent and the last three actually form a novella in three parts. The first story, “The Botanist”, introduces us to the crew of the airship Kestrel and one Dr Nicholas Ellsworth. As with Firefly, the Kestrel takes on cargo and passengers for delivery beyond the end of the railroad line. And as with Firefly, the passenger we meet… Well, I won’t spoil things. If you know Firefly, you have an idea what happens. And if you don’t, you’ll just have to read the story.

I found the stories to be fun and engaging reads. They are unabashedly in the action/adventure realm, evoking the spirit of the stories I read as a kid. The focus is on the exciting story line and not so much on the characters. Which isn’t to say the crew of the Kestrel aren’t an interesting bunch of misfits — for they are. The focus, though, is on the story and not on changes or the lack thereof in the characters of the story.

As writers, we are told stories are either plot-driven or character-driven. As readers, we tend to prefer exciting and suspenseful stories (like, say, the Indiana Jones or Lara Croft yarns) or we tend to prefer stories that get into a character’s head and where the action tends to be not quite so exciting and perhaps not exciting at all (such as a Yasujiro Ozu movie or a Kazuo Ishiguro novel).

For me, from both a reading and writing perspective, it is character that matters. One of my favorite movies, Late Spring, directed by Yasujiro Ozu (1949), is very understated. There is only a minimalist story. However, the intense emotion that builds up between father and daughter is phenomenal.

That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy a good action/adventure story where the characters lean towards being stock, because I do—as long as the characters are interesting and colorful. Indiana Jones is certainly colorful, but he doesn’t change all that much even throughout the series of movies.

What Jack Tyler has given us in Beyond The Rails, is action and adventure with characters who are interesting enough to appeal to the most diehard character-driven story reader.

If you like steampunk, the stories of H Rider Haggard, Firefly, I think you’ll want to curl up with Beyond The Rails. I know I did and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Comments are always welcome! And until next time, happy reading!

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Robert E Howard: A Writer For All Seasons



In the early 1970s there was a brief revival of Weird Tales magazine. Because of a letter to the editor I wrote, I made contact with a group of Lovecraftian and pulp-era aficionados in Minneapolis. And through that group became acquainted with Robert E Howard’s work. The writer who invented sword and sorcery fantasy. Howard’s best known creation is Conan the Cimmerian (or Barbarian), but there were many other characters that came from Howard’s typewriter who set the stage for Conan.

Lovecraft and Howard were clearly the two giants of the ‘20s and ‘30s pulp fiction era who have had a lasting impact on the fantasy, horror, and science fiction genres. Which, to my mind, makes them great writers. And of the two, I think Howard was the greater.

I know I stand in the minority with that opinion, but I do think it true. Of course, what constitutes “greatness” is always up for debate.

As a storyteller, when Lovecraft was good he was very, very good. And when he was bad he was horrid. Quite honestly, Lovecraft wrote some truly hack stories. Awhile back I started re-reading Lovecraft and I found what I was reading to be tedious, melodramatic, and dated.

I’ve never felt that way reading Howard. Which isn’t to say everything he wrote was stupendous, because it wasn’t. However, using consistency as a measure, I’d say Howard was the more consistent of the two. Pick up a Howard story, doesn’t matter the genre, and you’ll find plenty of action and plenty of atmosphere. Howard’s writing flows. Granted it’s not all superb literature — but his intention wasn’t to write superb literature. He was writing popular fiction to make a buck. And make a buck he did.

As a writer/publisher, an indie author, I look to Robert E Howard for inspiration. Why? Because, had he lived today, and I think he would have loved today’s indie revolution, I believe Howard would have been a phenomenal success. He knew how to tell a story and knew how to tell it well — without any training. He was prolific, and he was versatile.

Let’s take a look at each of these aspects.


Howard learned the craft of storytelling from sources that are all around us: songs (particularly folks songs and ballads), poetry, and fiction. In other worlds, he was a good listener and an eclectic reader who absorbed the structure of story. Sure he read for entertainment, as all readers do. But Howard, from his reading (and listening to his grandmother’s singing), learned what makes a story tick.

We writers — myself included — generally don’t do that. We are entertained and that’s it. A pity that, because reading and learning storytelling from a great book is about as inexpensive an education as one can get.

Back before YouTube, Artist Workshops, and Master Classes, back before this and the last centuries, and perhaps the one before that, wannabe artists learned how to paint by becoming apprentices to a great master and copying — yes, copying — his work. In that way they learned technique and also their own individual style began to emerge.

Some time, many years ago, I read a book or article on writing that advocated the same approach. Take a novel you like and copy it — by hand — word for word. Why? To feel it.

The majority of us are kinesthetic/tactile learners. That is, we learn by doing. And writing by hand is the most tactile experience you can have when it comes to writing. The pen or pencil in your hand, your hand moving it and forming letters and words, is a far more tactile experience than typing (which is really primarily visual), because more of you is in the writing.

So copying a story or novel by hand helps us to focus on the words and how they flow together to form story.

I’ve read the work of novice writers and I ask the question, “Would you actually read this if someone’s name other than your own was on it?”

We generally love our work or we hate it. We aren’t very objective. Those of us who tend to be haters (we’re probably perfectionists too), aren’t the problem. We throw our writing away — both good and bad.

The problem lies with those of us who love our writing — even if it’s crap. Writing we wouldn’t read if anyone else’s name was on it.

Robert E Howard learned how to tell a story by reading stories, listening to the story in folk songs and ballads, and then imitated the flow, atmosphere, characters, pacing, and showing not telling. He wrote what he liked to read and did it well.


Howard, in a letter to H P Lovecraft, wrote he wanted to be a writer because of the freedom it gave him. His schedule was his own and he had no boss. From the beginning, Howard wrote fiction as his job. He had no delusions about being a literary author. He wrote popular fiction to make a buck. That was his sole aim.

To do that, he needed to be prolific. When you’re paid by the word and you only get paid when a story is accepted or published — you have to write a lot of stories and you have to do so quickly. And Howard did.

Today’s author/publisher is no different. We indies cater to a specific reader. Our readers are

  • Genre readers,
  • Voracious readers, and
  • Readers who frequent used bookstores to buy lots of books cheaply.

If you desire to be a successful author, you must know who your audience is — and then write lots of books, preferably in series.

The pulp era was very similar to today’s publishing world. There were the literary giants and then there were the popular fiction writes. Today we have the literary giants and some big name genre writers who are published by the traditional publishing houses. Then there are the indie authors. Today’s indie writer carries the mantle of the pulp fiction writer of 80 and 90 years ago. And being prolific is the name of the game.


Howard was one of the most successfully versatile, genre-hopping authors of any age. He created the sword and sorcery fantasy sub-genre with characters such as Solomon Kane, King Kull, Conan, Bran Mak Morn, and Red Sonja. He created Breckinridge Elkins, that genre-busting hero of many of Howard’s westerns. Elkins is a character much like Conan and just as Conan transcended the fantasy of his day, so Elkins transcended the western. In fact, Elkins is so unique he hasn’t been copied and no name’s been given to the Elkinsesque Western.

Howard started out selling stories to Weird Tales magazine. But when the magazine (which paid on publication) got behind on its payments, Howard switched to other markets. Aside from horror, Howard wrote action and adventure, fight stories, mysteries, westerns (both weird and conventional), historical fiction, and he even wrote spicy stories (the erotica of his day) under the pseudonym Sam Walser.

Many of these stories featured serial protagonists: El Borak, Sailor Steve Costigan, Dennis Dorgan, Cormac Mac Art, as well as the above named characters.

Robert E Howard was truly a writer for all seasons. He wrote for money. And to be successful, after numerous rejection slips, he studied each magazine and the stories they accepted. He then tailored his writing to fit the house style, so the editor would send him a check instead of a rejection slip. Of course, his writing had to be good to begin with and it was. Once his work began to find fans, editors started coming to him and asking for stories.

Howard is the writer’s writer. He is my model and my inspiration. I doubt I’ll create any fictional subgenres. Although Howard didn’t intentionally set out to do so either. But what I do hope to learn from REH is his adaptability to the market, his ability to write prolifically, and all the while tell a good story.

As always, comments are welcome! Until next time, happy reading!

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Book Review: Defiant, She Advanced

When it comes to political and economic theory, I place myself in the libertarian camp. To my mind the rights of the individual trumps all. I’m opposed to collectivism and statism in all its forms. It does not take a village to raise a child. IMHO 🙂

And even though Ayn Rand was quite popular in my college days, I never read any of her books. Consequently, libertarian fiction is new to me. So when I ran across George Donnelly’s short story series, There Will Be Liberty, I decided to buy both books. After all, sci-fi and libertarianism—how cool is that?

I finished reading Defiant, She Advanced: Legends Of Future Resistance a week or two ago and decided to review it. As with all short story collections, some stories are better than others. Better in my eyes, that is. Because, as we all know, what is good or bad, beautiful or ugly, is all a matter of opinion.

So let’s take a look at the short story collection Defiant, She Advanced and see how it stakes up against the competition and let’s begin with me giving you a tiny taste of the flavors that you’ll find in this collection. Then be sure to get a copy and decide for yourself!

“The Slow Suicide of Living Again” by Wendy McElroy leads off the book. The story is the most overtly libertarian of the bunch, but that isn’t bad. Wendy’s done a great job of integrating libertarian thought with the storyline and making it flow as a coherent whole. The tale begins with a restitution agent describing a tense scene where she barely escapes from sex traffickers. But that’s the least of Mackenzie Jones’s problems. For her world is soon turned upside down and reality…? Well, what is reality anyway? A very memorable story. Perhaps the best in the collection.

Stories of good guys versus bad guys are usually told from the perspective of the good guy. “Thompson’s Stand” by Jake Antares tells the story of a rebellion against authority from the perspective of the bad guy. A tale of surprising compassion.

“Under the Heel of the Aether Imperium” by J P Medved is a steampunk space opera, with all the things we love best in those two sub-genres. It is a fun-filled, rollicking adventure yarn. This story is complete, yet sets the stage for an ongoing series.

William F Wu’s “Yellowsea Yank” is another steampunk adventure. This one, though, is set on earth, in China, and is filled with action, adventure, mystery, suspense, romance, and mistaken identity. What’s not to like?

1984 is perhaps the most terrifying picture of totalitarianism ever written. George Donnelly, in “Doubleplusunhate”, gives us an Orwellian story that is dark and disturbing. Make sure your teddy bear or comfy blanket are nearby.

Steampunk and the Western frontier seem to go together. Jack McDonald Burnett’s retro-future “Get Kidd to Bounty” gives us the Old West atmosphere in steampunk trappings and does so admirably. This is a classic escape story and will keep you on the edge of your seat. It’s also thought-provoking. One of the best in the collection.

For me, Robert S Hirsch’s “The Intruder” was weak. A rather predictable revenge story, with a techno-fight scene that I didn’t find all that interesting. This was probably the weakest story in the collection.

The writing in Jonathan David Baird’s “Workaday” was very good. Unfortunately, I thought the story suffered from being too short. The storyline needed some fleshing out, because too much seemed to be left unanswered. It just seemed too contrived and sketchy to me. The writing was good, I just wished there was more of it.

“Flourescence” by J P Medved was quite different from his other story in this collection. A dystopian fantasy about a girl with a very special grandmother. The story addresses the issue of authority versus the individual. I found it thought-provoking.

The collection concludes with a long story by George Donnelley, “The Death Shop”. The tone of this science fiction story is dystopian and the story ends with a surprising twist. Even now, reflecting on this tale, I’m not sure what to make of it. I found it disturbing and it left me… Well, I’m not sure. I guess, if anything, questioning what is real and what is a dream. Read it for yourself and see what you think.

All in all, Defiant, She Advanced: Legends of Future Resistance (There Will Be Liberty, Book 1) was worth the money. There is good thought-provoking, as well as fun, entertainment here. The libertarian thought, while present, was not in your face. No preaching here. Hats off to Mr Donnelly for achieving an excellent balance in good storytelling and in presenting political/economic thought. I recommend you get yourself a copy. I don’t think you’ll be sorry. I’m looking forward to reading the second book in the series.

Comments always welcome! Until next time, happy reading!

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Fast Writing: Additional Thoughts

Last week we talked about fast writing. This week I want to riff on some of those points we made.

For years now, I’ve maintained “The First Draft” is a myth. There’s no need for it or the accompanying second, third, fourth, fifth, etc drafts. The multiple draft approach is an Academic Belief System all wannabe writers are taught to believe by people who don’t write for a living. It has no basis in reality. At least the reality of those who write fiction for a living.

The belief system of Academia and the editors in the traditional publishing world believe this formula:

Slow Writing = Good Writing.

Or conversely, Fast Writing = Bad Writing.

This is a belief system. A religion. It is not The Truth. It has no basis in reality. It’s no different than belief in God. No one can prove there is or isn’t a God. One either believes there is a God or believes there isn’t one. Simple as that.

We writers can choose to believe the myth about fast and slow writing or we can choose not to believe it. For myself, I don’t believe it.

In high school and college, as a matter of course, mostly due to time pressure is my guess, I wrote out my papers and essays by hand. Then I typed them, editing as I went along. When I was done, I submitted. No first draft, second draft baloney. There was no time. And I’m pleased to say, I never got poor marks on my papers.

But for some odd reason, I didn’t apply that intuitive course of action to my fiction writing. I struggled trying to make it perfect. To do all of the “right” things. And consequently, I got nothing written.

Nearly 40 years ago now, I read a book on writing advice. I don’t remember the title, author, or anything about it except the summary of how Isaac Asimov wrote and his advice for writers. It went something like this:

  • Write every day — whether or not you feel like it.
  • Write simply.
  • Forget the critics.
  • Don’t rewrite. That’s what editors are for. This point was Asimov’s restatement of Robert Heinlein’s 3rd Rule of Writing, something I learned later. Asimov didn’t rewrite unless his editor demanded it. Asimov followed what, in business, is called the OHIO rule: Only Handle It Once. And it does work for writers. I practiced it with my essays for school.
  • Don’t use an agent. Because you make more money if you don’t. I.E., you aren’t paying the agent his or her commission.

That book and the brief bit of information from Isaac Asimov was my first introduction to prolific writing. And I loved the concept!

But for some reason, I still didn’t apply it to my fiction. And nothing got written.

Later on, I learned about the Victorian speed demon, Anthony Trollope. I learned Heinlein’s 5 Rules of Writing. I was awed by the fabulous production of Robert E Howard in his very short writing career. And I learned one thing about myself: I needed to be like them. I needed to be a fast writer.

In 1989, I wrote a novel. The process took me a year. I didn’t really know what I was doing. But I did get it written while working full time and learning the ins and outs of raising a very young child. After a few rejections of my query, I set the work aside. I decided it wasn’t up to standard. And in truth, it wasn’t. I didn’t quite have down how to write a good story. I also came to the decision, I couldn’t write longer works of fiction. They took up too much time. So I turned to poetry. And that worked.

For a span of fifteen or so years I wrote thousands of poems, following Asimov’s advice. I was a prolific poet and got hundreds of poems published. But I tired of poetry and wanted to write what I’d always wanted to write and that was fiction. So once again I turned to novel writing. And once again I stubbed my toe on another myth — that of the outline. And no matter how much I tried, I couldn’t get an outline to work. Every time I took my wonderful character or story idea and tried to outline the book, I suddenly lost all inspiration. It vanished.

Then I stumbled upon Kazuo Ishiguro and Yasujirō Ozu and the plotless novel and movie. To be fair, their books and movies aren’t without plot. The storyline, though, is minor. What is important are the character studies taking place on the page and screen. That was what broke the ice. I liked reading about characters. I could not care less about the story. I want interesting characters.

Suddenly, I felt free. There were no restrictions. Just write. Do what Ray Bradbury advised: create your characters, have them do their thing, and that’s your story. Simple as that. The words have been flowing like a flood from my pen ever since.

But getting back to Asimov, there was one “rule” he didn’t articulate but is clearly implied in his methodology — and which I follow. Namely, write it right the first time.

How does one write it right the first time? Confidence. You must be confident you know the basics of good writing. You must be confident you can tell a reasonably good story.

I’m not referring here to deeply profound writing. Or writing that is symbolic or “literary”, whatever that means. Or writing that is approved by Academia. I’m not referring here to writing that will win you the Pulitzer or Nobel or Booker awards. I’m referring here to good writing that will hopefully earn you a few bucks and maybe a lot of bucks. Straightforward writing that tells a good story.

Shakespeare did not set out to become the doyen of English literature. He was writing to make a buck. He used prefab storylines and created memorable characters and wrote some doggone good dialogue. But his main goal was to make a buck to support his family, mistress, and keep his theatre afloat. Shakespeare had confidence he could tell a good story.

The critics hated Isaac Asimov and ridiculed his very simple and straightforward writing style. However, the readers loved him and Asimov himself undoubtedly laughed at his critics all the way to the bank. Why? Because he told a good story. Was it a perfect story? No. And he would have been the first to admit it. But the story was good. In fact, Asimov wrote once that he tried to follow the multiple draft method and couldn’t. He liked what he wrote on the first draft and didn’t see any way he could improve it. Besides, it was a waste of time — if he wanted to be prolific and make a buck. Asimov had confidence.

Dean Wesley Smith tells an interesting anecdote from back when he was part of the traditional publisher world. He wrote a novel and his editor sent it back with a list of rewrites. Smith agreed with most of them and spent a day making the fixes. He was getting ready to send the typescript back when his wife told him to wait 3 weeks. Why? Because if Smith sent it back right away, following the “Slow Writing = Good Writing” myth, the editor would reject his work. He’d done the rewrites too quickly. So Smith waited. After 3 weeks he sent the typescript back and the editor praised his work and how quickly he’d made the fixes. Smith laughed. In those three weeks he’d almost finished another novel!

So what’s my point here? Here it is in a nutshell:

  • Learn the writing craft. Know your grammar and know the basics of good storytelling. If you don’t know those basics, you will not be able to tell good stories no matter how many rewrites you grind out.
  • Write every day — even if you don’t feel like it. Routine is good. Stick to it.
  • Don’t pot around worrying about outline and plot twists and all the other hoopla. Just write the story. Create your characters, put them in a fix or give them a problem to solve and then start writing. You will learn in the course of writing. We are writers. Not rewriters. When I read of writers who LOVE editing and rewriting… Well, there is something wrong there. IMO.
  • When done, reread to make sure your story is coherent and to catch typos, grammar issues, and any clunky sentences you may have written. But the sake of everything that is of value to you, don’t rewrite the thing. IMO, if you have to rewrite then you don’t know how to tell a story. Yeah, I know, that’s harsh. But it is just my opinion. The choice is yours: pot around rewriting, or get it right the first time and try to make a buck.

I’ve written and/or published in the span of 2 years, 11 novels, 6 novellas, 16 short stories, and a weekly blog. Are there better writers out there than me? Certainly. Are there worse writers? Sure are. But am I a good writer? Like Asimov, when I look at a story or novel I’ve just completed I like it. Do I tweak it? Usually. But I don’t rewrite. I just fix the little things like typos and grammar mistakes and maybe reword a sentence or two if they come off sounding clunky. That’s it. If the beta readers spot a big issue, I’ll fix that. Following Asimov and Heinlein, I only rewrite if my “editors” insist on it. And the so called rewrite is usually only a paragraph or so.

That’s the secret to fast writing. Go out there and tell your stories. Because only YOU can tell YOUR stories.

Comments are always welcome. Until next time, happy reading!

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